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Health Literacy: Welcome

Resources to assist you in 'plain speaking', which is a good thing when dealing with all patients, not just the ones with low literacy.

Finding Ebooks and Ejournals

The best way to find Ebooks is with the Medical Ebooks Search.  There are subject sets for public health and for epidemiology, so start by picking the one most likely to contain your topic, or search by typing a keyword in the box.  

You can also search in the library catalog, click the "Library Search" tab, enter your keyword, and use the filters to narrow the results to certain campus locations, or to electronic resources.

Find the Ejournals by searching for a word in the name of the journal (not by the title of an article). Consider related terms that might be useful.  To narrow your retrieval, choose more specific terms; to broaden your search, think of umbrella terms that are on topic but less specific. Remember, you are only searching the name of the journal, not for individual articles (see PubMed for that).

About Health Literacy

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Health literacy is dependent on individual and systemic factors:

  • Communication skills of lay persons and professionals

  • Lay and professional knowledge of health topics

  • Culture

  • Demands of the healthcare and public health systems

  • Demands of the situation/context

Health literacy affects people's ability to:

  • Navigate the healthcare system, including filling out complex forms and locating providers and services

  • Share personal information, such as health history, with providers

  • Engage in self-care and chronic-disease management

  • Understand mathematical concepts such as probability and risk

Health literacy includes numeracy skills. For example, calculating cholesterol and blood sugar levels, measuring medications, and understanding nutrition labels all require math skills. Choosing between health plans or comparing prescription drug coverage requires calculating premiums, copays, and deductibles.

In addition to basic literacy skills, health literacy requires knowledge of health topics. People with limited health literacy often lack knowledge or have misinformation about the body as well as the nature and causes of disease. Without this knowledge, they may not understand the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise and various health outcomes.

Health information can overwhelm even persons with advanced literacy skills. Medical science progresses rapidly. What people may have learned about health or biology during their school years often becomes outdated or forgotten, or it is incomplete. Moreover, health information provided in a stressful or unfamiliar situation is unlikely to be retained.

What is literacy?

Literacy can be defined as a person's ability to read, write, speak, and compute and solve problems at levels necessary to:

  • Function on the job and in society

  • Achieve one's goals

  • Develop one's knowledge and potential

The term “illiteracy” means being unable to read or write. A person who has limited or low literacy skills is not illiterate.

What is plain language?

Plain language is a strategy for making written and oral information easier to understand. It is one important tool for improving health literacy.

Plain language is communication that users can understand the first time they read or hear it. With reasonable time and effort, a plain language document is one in which people can find what they need, understand what they find, and act appropriately on that understanding.

Key elements of plain language include:

  • Organizing information so that the most important points come first

  • Breaking complex information into understandable chunks

  • Using simple language and defining technical terms

  • Using the active voice

Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others. It is critical to know your audience and have them test your materials before, during, and after they are developed.

Speaking plainly is just as important as writing plainly. Many plain language techniques apply to verbal messages, such as avoiding jargon and explaining technical or medical terms.

U. S. Dept of Health and Human Services 

http://www.health.gov/communication/literacy/quickguide/factsbasic.htm

Subject Guide

Micki McIntyre, MS, MA's picture
Micki McIntyre, MS, MA
Contact:
RowanSOM Health Sciences Library, Stratford Campus
856-566-6936